In ages past exclusives were considered the primary driving force for console sales. Today, that's no longer the case. While first-party titles like Uncharted and Halo are an important part of the climate, it's the third-party games that push sales, games like Destiny and Grand Theft Auto V.
When it comes to partnership deals with third-party publishers this generation, Sony has consistently executed in a highly effective and efficient manner than Microsoft hasn't been able to compete with. Below, let's go over each of the major deals and what they meant for the PS4 and Xbox One.
Titanfall: A Blip On The Gaming Timeline
Release Date: March 11, 2014
Metacritic Score: 86%
Sales on Xbox One: Over 2.5 Million
As the story goes, before the generation began EA executives were convinced that the Xbox One would lead the market. So, it was interested in a partnership when Microsoft approached it about a massive deal to make its next big AAA shooter console exclusive to Microsoft's platform. It seemed like a match made in heaven.
The good news for Microsoft was that Titanfall was critically well received. One could argue that it's still the best online shooter of the current-generation. However, the sales don't exactly reflect that. To-date it's pushed roughly 2.5 million copies to consumers on the platform, an attachment rate of around 17%. That number would usually be considered reason for excitement, but Titanfall was a mainstream game that was given a massive marketing push. By the end of April Microsoft would practically be handing out the game and its Xbox One bundle. More was expected.
Titanfall succeeded in curtailing the fall-off of Xbox One sales following its launch. At the time the console was receiving a lot of heat for its price, included Kinect, and hardware. Microsoft had only one strong argument for why the average consumer should buy its product: games. Titanfall's great design helped to push the console during the month of March. Unfortunately, it had no lasting power. Just a couple months after launch nobody was talking about Titanfall anymore, and its reputation as being potentially the biggest IP of the new generation would be squandered once Destiny arrived.
Destiny: Spacefaring Record Breaker
Release Date: September 9, 2014
Metacritic Score: 76%
Sales on PS4: Over 5 Million
Sony wouldn't counter Microsoft's big Titanfall push until half a year later with Destiny. Destiny was made by Bungie, one of the most prolific developers in the industry. Its critical debut was lukewarm with many reviews falling in the "mixed reception" category, eventually resulting in a 76% Metacritic score. Although it was considered disappointing, that didn't seem to matter to consumers. Destiny would become and remains the largest new IP launch in the industry's history with sales figures that usually only the Call of Duty's of the world are capable of achieving.
From Sony's angle, Destiny has done great things for the PlayStation brand. A platform typically known for its focus on single-player story-driven games was given exclusive content and a huge marketing push for the next big social online shooter. Without a PC port, it was also the best performing version of the game. Its Destiny PS4 bundle would sell like hotcakes, retaining momentum for the console during a time when its exclusive line-up was frowned upon.
Destiny is still often talked about and a hugely popular game a full year later thanks to its post-release updates and DLC. With the debut of its first major expansion, The Taken King, not only has the game propelled itself back onto sales charts and discussion boards, but so has the PS4. Its second Destiny bundle for The Taken King has been a top-seller at retailers, giving Sony a strong third-party presence leading up to its Star Wars: Battlefront bundle later this year.
Assassin's Creed Unity: Downward Trend
Release Date: November 11th, 2014
Metacritic Score: 72%
Sales on Xbox One: Over 3 Million
From an Assassin's Creed point of view, Assassin's Creed Unity was a disaster. Its plethora of technical woes and lack of evolution for the franchise made it an underwhelming deal for Microsoft. This was a particularly tough break for Microsoft as it was featured as its huge marketing exclusive, one that it would push during Black Friday and more than six months that followed.
The big problem was that the issues with Assassin's Creed Unity prevented it from being a game that made consumers want to head to the store and buy an Xbox One. Instead, it just so happened to be a game that consumers received for free with the purchase of the price-reduced console.
On the flip side, Assassin's Creed holds a lot of weight with some consumers, so the bundle was moderately successful for Microsoft achieving three million sales in under a year. It just wasn't the big score that it hoped for.
Grand Theft Auto V: Donald Trump Of Gaming IPs
Release Date: November 18, 2014
Metacritic Score: 97%
Sales on PS4: Over 7.5 million
There is no bigger IP in the industry than Grand Theft Auto. If you want big sales numbers, partnering with Rockstar Games is the way to do it.
Although it was already available on PS3 and Xbox 360, the next-generation versions of Grand Theft Auto V were a huge hit thanks to their meaningful additions and improvements. As a matter of fact, PS4 sales of the game are at over 38% of the PS3 version's sales, with numbers currently over 7.5 million on the platform. Meanwhile, the Xbox One's version is yet to break the 3.5 million mark, less than half that of its adversary.
The biggest element of Sony's deal with Rockstar Games was its Black Friday 2014 deal. It was able to deliver the PS4 with Grand Theft Auto V and The Last of Us Remastered, two of the highest rated games of all-time, in one package for $399. The deal was integral to Sony combating the Xbox One's strong exclusive line-up and $329 price point during the holidays. Its deal with Rockstar Games can be considered a pivotal moment in its success story to this point.
Evolve: Oh Yeah, That Game
Release Date: February 10th, 2015
Metacritic Score: 74%
Sales on Xbox One: ~0.5 million
Evolve's release was reminiscent of Titanfall's. Both released in the first quarter of the year, focused on online multiplayer, were shooters, and won multiple E3 Game of Show awards. But Evolve only dreams to have been as popular as Titanfall.
Evolve was a marketing disaster. It received middling reviews, and there was negative discussion about the title before and after release. 2K Games and Microsoft would do everything in their power to advertise the title, but consumers weren't having it. More than half a year later it hasn't come close to surpassing one million sales on its marketed platform. Thankfully, Microsoft had Ori and the Blind Forest to make up for Evolve's misstep.
Batman Arkham Knight: Summer Hero
Release Date: June 23rd, 2015
Metacritic Score: 87%
Sales on PS4: Over 2 million
Batman: Arkham Knight's was a great game, but perhaps its greatest asset was that it arrived right before the Summer drought. It would have a strong presence throughout the release-dry months to follow.
Batman: Arkham Knight performed well, earning high marks with reviewers and was one of the best-selling titles through the Summer season of 2015. Sony's marketing deal with Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, which included advertisement presence and exclusive content, paid off as the PS4 version outsold the Xbox One version by a factor of nearly 3:1.
If only the Batmobile wasn't such a nuisance.
Madden NFL 16 & FIFA 16: Roster Updates
Release Date: August 25, 2015 & September 22, 2015
Metacritic Score: 83% & 86%
Sales on Xbox One: TBD
Microsoft's partnership with EA has been ongoing since before the Xbox One's debut. Microsoft saw an opportunity to capture the sports market, and invested hundreds of millions of dollars into it, including an NFL deal that gives it exclusive rights to branded features. That deal made yearly Madden NFL advertising a no-brainer.
The FIFA 16 deal is one that Microsoft sees as an opportunity to gain some ground in regions outside of North America, particularly Europe where the sport is enjoyed by hundreds of millions of people.
The impact of these two deals is hard to determine at this point. Madden NFL 16 has done well, albeit under expectations, while FIFA 16 just debuted yesterday. There's potential present, but what is for certain is series fatigue has set in for both titles and neither was regarded by reviewers to be a healthy deviation. The partnership can be described as safe and predictable.
The greatest thing that can be said about these bundles is that they include a full year subscription to EA Access. The service has become one of the greatest in modern gaming, and it's not available on Sony's platform. Microsoft has a winner on its hands.
Star Wars Battlefront: The Force Awakens
Release Date: November 17th, 2015
Metacritic Score: TBD
Sales on PS4: TBD
Star Wars: Battlefront might not yet be released, but you can bet your boots that it'll be a chart-killer for Sony. As if the Star Wars brand wasn't big enough, the seventh film installment arrives just a few short weeks after the game. Star Wars is going to be on everyone's minds, and judging by the positive early reception of Star Wars: Battlefront, it'll be an excellent way for consumers to extend their fandom beyond the theater.
Sony is going all in with its Star Wars deal. A PS4 bundle will be available that includes a custom visual design for the console and controller. With yet another soft holiday season for exclusives on the platform, this partnership is expected to make waves similar to last year's Grand Theft Auto V & The Last of Us: Remastered bundle.
Partnership deals are a complicated thing. Not only do Sony or Microsoft have to make an educated projection on how well a game will perform, but they have to go out and make a sale with the publisher. While Microsoft is doing a great job with first-party bundles this year, its deals with third-party publishers have been poor. Meanwhile, Sony has hit a home run with every swing. While the PS4's powerful hardware and positive reputation among gamers are cited as the primary reasons for why it's selling so well, Sony's partnerships are an equally important part of the picture.